In Feature Articles, Ukraine

New Cold War.org, Jan 18, 2016

Enclosed are multiple news reports of the ceasefire renewal agreement signed on January 13, 2016 in Minsk, Belarus between envoys of the governing regime in Ukraine and the Russian government. Also enclosed are reports of the meeting between U.S. and Russian government officials in Kaliningrad of January 15 discussing Ukraine.

Ukraine, pro-Russia rebels agree new truce deal

By Tatiana Kalinovskaya, AFP, Jan 13, 2016

MINSK – Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels agreed to a new truce deal January 13 that goes into immediate effect and replaces one broken just hours after its signature at the end of last month. The latest ceasefire was negotiated between Moscow and Kiev envoys in the Belarussian capital Minsk with the help of a senior negotiator from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Both Ukrainian and OSCE officials said the latest initiative was pushed forward by Boris Gryzlov — a former Russian parliamentary speaker whom President Vladimir Putin handpicked as his personal envoy to the negotiations earlier this month. Gryzlov is seen as both a close ally and confident of Putin who brings a much greater degree of credibility to truce talks that had been conducted by much lower ranking and less known Russian officials in the past year.

Ukrainian media cited sources as saying that Gryzlov had conducted a rare private meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev before heading off to Minsk.

“Russian representative Boris Gryzlov proposed making another attempt at reaching a ceasefire,” Russian news agencies quoted OSCE negotiator Martin Sajdik as saying in Minsk. “This proposal was supported by all of the meeting’s participants,” Sajdik was further quoted as saying.

There was no immediate comment from Gryzlov himself or the representatives of Ukraine’s separatist [sic] Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

A spokeswoman for Poroshenko’s peace negotiator said the new truce would go into immediate effect in honour of the “Old New Year” holiday that is celebrated Wednesday in ex-Soviet republics according to the Julian calendar.

“Ukraine stresses that without a ceasefire, there can be no de-mining or a proper solution to outstanding political, humanitarian and economic issues,” Ukrainian spokeswoman Darka Olifer wrote on Facebook. “That is why Ukraine supports the latest initiative of Russian representative Boris Gryzlov.”

Kiev’s pro-Western leaders and the insurgents are fighting over an industrial region the approximate size of Wales that is home to about 3.5 million people and the centre of the splintered former Soviet nation’s coal and steel wealth.

Russia firmly denies allegations of orchestrating and backing the war in order to keep some leverage over Ukraine in the wake of its decision to establish closer trade and political relations with the European Union.

The previous “New Year and Christmas” truce was struck on December 22. It was broken the following morning and yet again failed to bring an end to a 20-month conflict that has now claimed more than 9,000 lives.

Three Ukrainian soldiers and two rebel fighters have been reported killed since the start of the year.

Prisoner swap

The OSCE’s Sajdik said that the sides had agreed to meet again in Minsk next week in order to assess the degree to which Wednesday’s call for all sides to lay down their arms was being observed.

He added that Ukraine and insurgency leaders had declared their intention to release a combined total of more than 50 prisoners of war as soon as all the technicalities had been resolved. “The sides have agreed to provide more details about this no later than next week.”

Poroshenko has repeatedly vowed to immediately return home hundreds of soldiers captured by rebel forces across the shattered war zone. The issue is one of many that has kept the foes from agreeing the terms of a final solution to one of Europe’s deadliest conflicts since the Balkans wars of the 1990s.

Victoria Nuland meets with Russian officials to discuss Ukraine

By Anna Smolchenko, with Ania Tsoukanova in Kiev, AFP, Jan 15, 2016

MOSCOW – Top US and Russian officials met Friday in Russia’s westernmost outpost to discuss the Ukraine crisis amid a fresh international drive to bolster a fragile truce in the east of the ex-Soviet country.

US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and top Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov met near the city of Kaliningrad in Russia’s exclave bordering European Union members Lithuania and Poland, a source familiar with the situation told AFP.

“The meeting is closed to the media. The topic is Ukraine,” the source said.

The meeting took place in Russia because Surkov is subject to Western sanctions over the Kremlin’s role in the Ukraine crisis and is unable to travel to the EU, the source said.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the meeting, saying Nuland and Surkov had met to discuss “the need for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements,” a package of measures agreed by the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia in the Belarusian capital last February.

“Assistant Secretary Nuland’s meeting with presidential advisor Surkov is part of our continued efforts to work with Russia to ensure full implementation of the Minsk agreements, in close coordination with the other Normandy powers —- Ukraine, Germany, and France,” Kirby said in a statement.

No other details were immediately released.

The meeting came after Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama discussed the Ukraine crisis by phone earlier this week.

The White House said the Russians needed to “live up to the commitments that they made in Minsk — to end their support for separatists that are destabilising Ukraine right now.”

Putin, for his part, said the Ukrainian authorities must establish “direct dialogue” with separatists in the east and agree constitutional amendments with them.

‘Intensification of efforts’

The meeting came amid an apparent international push to shore up the brittle truce amid sporadic fighting in eastern Ukraine. A senior Ukrainian official told AFP that representatives of French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to visit Moscow and Kiev in the coming days to hold talks on the crisis.

The negotiations — to follow Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s phone talks with Merkel and Hollande this week — will touch upon the fragile ceasefire, the completion of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, access for OSCE observers to rebel-controlled territory and the release of prisoners, the Kiev source said.

“This is an intensification of efforts that was planned at the end of last year,” the source said.

Poroshenko on Thursday said he wanted the EU and US to help secure the return of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, and vowed to win back the separatist east this year.

Moscow did not immediately confirm the planned meetings.

More than 9,000 people have been killed and over 20,000 injured in the conflict in Ukraine since April 2014, according to the United Nations. A series of truce agreements that started in September have helped to reduce the fighting in eastern Ukraine significantly, although sporadic clashes continue on the front line.

Read also:
* Nuland-Surkov consultations on Donbas settlement end in Kaliningrad, TASS, Jan 15, 2016

* Military and political leaders in Donetsk and Lugansk report that violations of ceasefire agreements by Ukraine continue, notwithstanding the ceasefire renewal signed on January 13, 2016. Here is a report of the main violations for the week beginning January 10, 2016: Situation report of military actions in Novorossiya, Jan 10-17, 2016

* Some of these ceasefire violations are also reported on the website of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in the daily reports of the SMM.

* TASS Russian news agency reports on Ukraine’s ceasefire violations, including this January 16 news report: Ukrainian troops open fire 14 times over 24 hours in Donbass – media.

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